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War / Military

REVIEW:  The Road Ahead by Christabel Bielenberg

REVIEW: The Road Ahead by Christabel Bielenberg

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Spoiler (Possible Triggers): Show

The beginning of the book covers the arrival of Allied/Russian troops in Germany and mention is made of rape. Also, later in the book, Christabel talks about an Uncle in England who, for reasons she never knew, disliked Jews.

Following her wartime memoirs in “The Past is Myself”, Christabel Bielenberg continues her story from the end of the war. Germany was devastated by war and its aftermath, while to the author Britain seemed grey and exhausted. She was soon appointed “The Observer”‘s special correspondent in Germany and, reunited with her husband – technically an enemy alien – she joined the struggle for reconciliation with, and the rebuilding of, a defeated nation. A near-fatal accident to her husband, and her own illness, persuaded the young couple to turn their backs on England and Germany, and make a new start farming in Ireland. Although life was harsh at first, the beautiful scenery of the Wicklow Mountains provided a haven for the family and for the hosts of young people from all over the world who joined them each summer. Christabel became involved with the Peace Women of Northern Ireland, and learned as much as she could about her adopted country.

Dear Readers,

Last month I reviewed the first book that Christabel Bielenberg wrote about her experiences as a wife and mother in wartime Germany, “The Past is Myself.” Once I got all my April and early May new books read and reviews written, I treated myself by going on to read this, her second book. It’s told in the same humorous style as her first book, manages to convey the tremendous bustle of her daily life and that of her family, doesn’t diverge from the main path of the story but is also deeply moving.

The story picks up right where “Past” left off with Chris, her German husband Peter and their three sons living in a small German village in the Black Forest where first Chris and the boys and then Peter – once he’d been released from Ravensbrück Prison Camp for his part in the July 20th, 1944 attempt on Hitler’s life – lived in the second half of the war. A few Russians had already been through there, had looted a little but then moved on. They were waiting for the other shoe to fall at the close of “Past.”

Well, the shoe not only fell but was then picked up and used to whack the villagers as the French auxiliary troops then arrived. Looting, rape, random destruction, more looting – chickens were a favorite – and more rape followed before the regular French Army arrived to occupy the area. Chris – who spoke French – worked out the magic words to say – “Yes, I have a big husband. He’s with the Commandant right now but is going to be back soon” – to keep the auxiliaries at bay and soon most of the women of the valley, along with their chickens, were taking refuge with her.

Chris boldly decides to seek out the Commandant in a neighboring town and gets from him a pass which allows her to travel at will – first on a bike and then by rickety car if she can find any gasoline. Eventually a British captain arrives in her village and the sight and sound of his and his drivers’ voices is enough to cause Chris to melt down in tears with shear relief. He then gives her an introductory letter along with the advice that nothing works miracles so fast in the Army as having a great big rubber stamp to make things look official. With these in hand, she and Peter are off to see his family in Hamburg and to seek work for Peter in post-war Frankfurt.

Meanwhile Chris’s family in England are hard at work getting her and the boys permission to come to England where Chris puts the boys in boarding school – or boring school as her middle son calls it. Chris temporarily becomes a correspondent in Germany for a British newspaper where she watches first hand the efforts to dig – literally in Berlin – the country out of the rubble. Lots of effort and red tape later, Peter can finally join them in England.

Before the war, Chris and Peter had briefly thought of moving to Ireland where Chris had relatives but ultimately they decided to stay in Germany and see if there was anything they or their friends could do to avert the war. Now having made the decision not to stay in post-war Germany, they looked once again to buying some farm land in Ireland and putting down roots – so to speak.

Chris’s description of her family, and her efforts to find a suitable farm that they could also afford is like something out of a comedic BBC TV series. I can see this being filmed. Seriously. Her trip in her aunt’s elderly car, which required a crank to start it, which had no floorboards in the back, a leaking roof on which her cousin had poured rubber cement which then leaked on her and the whole screeching to a halt and thus causing more rubber cement to slide forward and down the windscreen/shield all because a momma duck and ducklings waddled across the road had me in stitches.

Eventually a decrepit farm is bought and milk cows are purchased. It’s then that Chris discovers she’s not truly cut out to be a farmer’s wife but she gamely struggles on, even at one time turning a hand to being a ewe midwife. She and Peter, and the boys during school breaks, carry on, work hard and start to see progress. Chris also learns the history of their farm going back 1,000 years from the old retainer herder who’s lived there all his life. Eventually summer at the farm turns into a YA United Nations as friends, children of friends and various assorted strays come to live, perfect their English and harvest hay and barley for Peter’s contract with Guinness.

The years flow on and Chris ends the book with thoughts of her past and future as her large extended family and friends set up the celebration for her 70th birthday. The edition I have is a combination of both her books along with extra material including 1 extra chapter each that didn’t make the books plus some letters and diary entries Chris made during her time in Germany that her family found after her death. They also make compelling reading especially her chapter about her mother’s life which shows that Chris had a stellar model for the way to live a life She lived an amazing life, made a boatload of friends, influenced people for good and must have been a wonderful person to talk to. B+

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  The Wedding Ring Quest by Carla Kelly

REVIEW: The Wedding Ring Quest by Carla Kelly

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“Searching for a ring…finding a family!

Penniless Mary Rennie knows she’s lucky to have a home with relatives in Edinburgh, but she does crave more excitement in her life. So when her cousin’s ring is lost in one of several fruitcakes heading around the country as gifts, Mary seizes the chance for adventure.

When widowed captain Ross Rennie and his son meet Mary in a coaching inn, they take her under their wing. After years of battling Napoleon, Ross’s soul is war weary, but Mary’s warmth and humor touch him deep inside. Soon, he’s in the most heart-stopping situation of his life—considering a wedding-ring quest of his own!”

Dear Ms. Kelly,

I totally agree with you about this cover. Instead of winter travel in a post chaise, we have a young buck (with both legs) who looks as he and a giddy heroine are about to set off on a London to Brighton wagered race. And where’s Nathan? Ah, Harlequin covers, you gotta love them.

When I saw the (incorrect) cover and read the blurb, I was excited that the book was a Regency. I do love your American frontier westerns but your Regencies are what I started with and reading one feels like coming home. In a way, the book has a lot of similarities with past Kelly books. It’s a Regency road romance featuring likeable if slightly downtrodden characters one of whom is a military man. There is a degree of instant attraction between Ross and Mary though neither is going to act on it for various reasons. The reason for the “Quest” is slightly silly, TBH, but one about which I can shrug and say, “why not” and “I’ve read more contrived plot premises than this before.” In the end, it gets our couple together, on the road and with time to start their romance.

The trip itself is fun to watch though a journey from the Scottish border through York and back through a Regency winter was probably no picnic. Bad inns, cold weather and a vindictive slacker from Ross’s past bog them down slightly but through it all, they manage to maintain their good cheer if not dry handkerchiefs. Yes, tears abound as the trip turns into far more than tracking down a lost ring.

Mary and Ross are both at a crossroads in life though neither actually realizes it. Mary has lived her adult life with relatives who care for her and treat her fairly well but in all honesty, she now begins to see her future spooling out in front of her with little variation or chance for change. Ross has danced to Boney’s tune as have most British military men for the past twenty years and though he loves the Navy and life at sea, the things and relationships he missed on land are adding up. An unintended side trip Mary engineers serves to show Ross both the cost of the life he’s lead and how much he can bring comfort to the people the butcher’s bill have left behind.

The people they meet along the way help Mary and Ross make decisions about themselves and spur the actions they take. I did think the Rennies’ initial easy camaraderie and exchange of information was fast but even more so is when they spill the whole story to complete strangers – my that York one was record time even for today’s “tell everyone your life story the 15th second that you know them.” I had thought this more an American thing than something that – even today – is common in the UK.

Things were going along well, feelings were being felt – though Ross needed a good knock upside his head for the sometimes thoughtless comments he’d make to Mary about his “perfect woman” – until a point when Ross loses it after he decides Mary is bamming them about her trip. Why? It seemed out of character for him even as a post captain who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He’s instantly repentant but thank goodness the postilions and Nathan give him quiet hell and Mary Rennie proves her bona fides and lack of pettiness when she doesn’t backhand him. Though he deserved it.

The next section of the book is quietly wonderful. I felt much more comfortable with the extra months at end of fruitcake journey that allowed for the resolution of everyone’s business. After returning to Edinburgh, Mary stands her ground with her family and manages to get her way. Her adventure shows her that she’s not going to be content with her lot of sitting in Wapping Street for the rest of her life. Ross’s questions to her about what she could do with her future has given her the courage to think about changing it for what she wants and she discovers she enjoys making her own decisions.

Meanwhile Ross thinks long and hard about his own future and his relationship with his son before having to finish up what his “employer” restarted after escaping from Elba. He also starts to face what the past twenty years have done to him as a person and if he can find his way to a future. His “almost” action seemed a bit melodramatic for the way his character had been shown up til then but on second thought, this seems to be an issue for a lot of military men.

When Ross finally makes his move and goes after what he wants, I was pleased that Mary stuck to her guns about earning her own money, emigrating and making up her mind about marrying Ross even though she loved him. Her hesitation to “say yes” is with good cause and not just because he’s not said the three magic words. She’s convinced that he’s the kind of man who lives for danger and the thrills of combat and command. She thinks she has nothing to offer him that would take the place of this and it’s not until all this is settled that they’re ready for their HEA and it’s not until Ross has convinced her about how much she adds to his life that she changes her mind.

At first glance, this might sound like just another light and frothy Regency. But upon closer inspection, it’s much deeper and delves into the issues facing an older, unmarried woman of the day and an almost retired lifelong military man of any era. It does get a little sappy at times but smartens back up and allows a sufficient amount of time, thought and effort to go into this relationship to convince me that it will last. B-

~Jayne

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